Woods Charter overcomes North Moore’s physicality in 5-2 win, advances to third round of playoffs

The Wolves went without multiple key players, still prevailed


CHAPEL HILL — In the second round of the 1A girls’ soccer state playoffs, No. 2 Woods Charter, missing multiple key players, conquered a sudden jump in intensity.

After cruising to a 17-0 victory over Henderson Collegiate in the first round, the Wolves endured No. 18 North Moore’s physicality and solid on-ball pressure to beat the Mustangs in a much closer battle, 5-2, Thursday.

From kickoff, North Moore made it tough for Woods Charter to get much offense going. The Mustangs did a good job of staying in front of ball handlers, using the pressure to force off-target passes and unsuccessful shots on the goal.

With the Mustangs also hustling to the ball in every fight for possession, some bodies hit the ground early on and throughout the game, giving Woods Charter something they’re not new to — but something to get re-accustomed to.

“It’s about matching the physicality which I didn’t think we did in the first half a lot,” Woods Charter head coach Graeme Stewart said. “They imposed their one-on-one with us a little bit too much…The way to handle that pressure is to A, match it, and then B, move the ball quicker.”

Woods Charter played solid defense on their end, too, and combined with North Moore’s defensive efforts, that helped keep the game scoreless for the first 16 minutes. With 24 minutes left in the first half, North Moore freshman Joselyn Martindale took advantage of a rare breakthrough and got behind the Wolves’ defense to put the game’s first goal on the board.

Now with even more pressure to get the offense going, the Wolves continued to struggle offensively until six minutes later when Woods Charter senior Catherine Czyzewski decided to let loose on a long-range shot, hitting the back of the net just a few paces in front of midfield.

“I saw (Leyla Noronha) had just won the ball, and it popped right back out,” Czyzewski said. “I kind of looked at her (and) I was just like, ‘I’m going to hit it.’ And, I did.”

Immediately after Czyzewski tied the game at one goal apiece, Woods Charter’s all-state senior Sienna Gray, who was one of the girls not expected to play, checked into the game.

Gray impacted the game almost immediately, giving the Wolves another talented offensive player on the pitch. Less than two minutes after her entrance, she put in a goal from close range to give the Wolves a 2-1 lead.

Ten minutes later, she scored once again, stretching the Wolves’ advantage to two goals before halftime.

“I saw them go down, and when (Czyzewski) got the goal back, I was really excited to go out and play,” Gray said.

Said Stewart, “We made the decision to put (Gray) on for a few minutes, and she changed the game. Her movement, her physicality, her decision making and the way she connects with the rest of the team just makes it a little bit of a different proposition.”

Coming out of the break with the momentum swinging its way, Woods Charter had a smoother start to the second half with better offensive execution.

“In the second half in particular, we moved the ball a lot better,” Stewart said. “We saw the tackles come in, and we anticipated it a bit better. And, we continuously got the ball wide, which was part of the plan. And, I think we just made quicker decisions.”

Continuing her aggressive, fast paced play from the first half, Noronha finally scored her first goal of the game with 32 minutes left to play.

North Moore scored again about midway through the second half, bringing the score to 4-2 with plenty of time left, but that didn’t rattle the Wolves. Woods Charter had already tightened its grip on the game and put the icing on the cake with another goal from Noronha in the game’s final minutes.

With the win, the Wolves advanced to the third round of the state playoffs to play No. 10 East Wake Academy.